Sunday, March 12, 2023

The 2023 A to Z Blogging Challenge Theme Reveal

Can you believe it has been a year? The A to Z Blogging Challenge is approaching again! This is my 11th year participating. It is always great fun, and it has led me to many new stories, fabulous new blogs, and lots of discoveries.

In the past 9 years I've always had a theme:

Weird Princesses (2013)
Tales with Colors (2014)
Epics A to Z (2015)
Diversity A to Z (2016)
WTF - Weird Things in Folktales (2017)
WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales (2018)
Fruit Folktales (2019)
Folktales of Endangered Species (2020)
Tarot Tales (2021)
Gemstone Folklore (2022)

This year I once again wanted to do a "Mythology and Folklore" theme, but I was out of ideas. I was going to do constellation myths, but the research didn't really yield good stories and I was getting frustrated. Then I was going to go through the Hungarian Legends Catalog, but I felt meh about it. I even started collecting songs for a "Music and Folktales" theme, but realized I did not have the energy to do it justice this year, so I changed my mind again.

Finally, an idea dawned on me, and it sounded so simple and ridiculous that I knew it would definitely be entertaining:


I am going to be researching folktales featuring 26 different body parts.

Yes, those too.

Yes, that too.

Once I started thinking about it, I realized how many tales I already know that feature various parts of the body. I am sure you can think of some as well. Rapunzel's hair, Cinderella's feet, Bluebeard, The girl without hands... I decided to make a list of body parts, A to Z, and try to find some of the most interesting, least well-known, most fun stories about them. The research has been very entertaining, and I can't wait to share the results with you!

The theme is not "adult" per se, but I'll post warnings occasionally when necessary.

See you in April! ;)

Are you participating in A to Z this year? Are you doing a Theme Reveal? Share your link in the comments so I can visit you back!

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Folktales about women who slay monsters (International Women's Day)

It has become tradition on the blog to post a collection of folktales for International Women's Day. I've had a different theme every year: Women in war, Woman healers, Women helping women, and Badass Grandmas.

This year, I decided to collect stories about women slaying monsters. Many people cling to the belief in traditional stories monster-killing is a man's job, while women wait around helpless to be rescued. Often, this is raised as the main critique of telling folktales in "modern times" - "outdated values" and whatnot. And yet, people who complain the loudest tend to have no idea how many monster-slaying women exist in traditions around the world.

So, on this International Women's Day, let's hear it for them!

(You know the drill. Links in the titles. Image from here.)

Margaret the Giant-slayer (Ireland)

A prince sets out on his ship to seek adventure, and a girl named Margaret asks to join him. As they sail, a sea monster threatens the ship, and Margaret sacrifices herself for the crew. She manages to get away from the serpent, however, and reaches a land threatened by giants. Margaret accompanies her (returned) prince to the giants' castle, and while the prince is asleep at night, she battles the giants and kills them.

Rebeka (Transylvanian Roma tale)

There are several variants of the "Treasures of the Giant" folktale type (a.k.a. Jack and the Beanstalk) with women as protagonists. One of my favorites is the story of Rebeka, which I published on this blog in full English translation (see link). It's about a girl who rescues her sisters from a dragon, and then keeps returning to trick the monster out of various treasures. In the end, she even captures the dragon, although she doesn't kill it. (See also: Molly Whuppie)

The Ginkgo Fairy (China)

In this beautiful story a young man falls in love with a mysterious woman who turns out to be a ginkgo fairy (an old tree whose spirit took on human form). When her husband is kidnapped by evil serpents, the fairy takes up her father's sword, battles the serpents, and rescues her beloved.

The giant caterpillar (Ivory Coast)

A caterpillar as large as an elephant blocks a village road and swallows a little boy. The men of the village set out to fight the monster, but they get scared and run away. Then the women take up various household instruments and attack the caterpillar together, beating it until it's dead, and rescue the boy from its stomach.

The girl made of mud (Transylvanian Roma tale)

An old, childless couple fashions a girl from mud, and their devotion brings her to life. She soon turns out to have magic powers. First, she battles a cursed knight, then a dragon; she even follows the monster into the Underworld, fighting devils and serpents with an ax, and eventually manages to slay the dragon in a shamanistic duel of shapeshifting. (The book linked is in Hungarian).

Li Ji slays the serpent (China)

When a giant serpent threatens Fujian Province and demands maidens to devour, a brave girl named Li Ji volunteers to be sacrificed to it. She asks for a sword and a snake-hunting dog. She lures the serpent out of its cave with sweets, and kills it with the help of the dog. Then she buries the remains of the previous victims. (I blogged about this tale here.)

Durdana Chelmard (Pakistan)

Durdana is a famously clever girl; after a game of riddles, a king decides to marry her. His other wives, however, are jealous of the newcomer, and they convince their husband to abandon Durdana in the wilderness. Alone, she puts on her husband's clothes, and begins a new life as a warrior. She fights and defeats various monsters, goes on a quest, and even saves a princess. Eventually her husband shows up again, but she refuses to go back to him, returning to her parents with all he treasures instead.

Nana Miriam (Songhai, Mali/Niger)

When a monstrous hippo attacks a community, the best warriors and hunters try and fail to defeat it. It is not only ravenous, but it also melts any weapon thrown its way. Finally the chief's daughter, Nana Miriam, goes out to face the beast, and gets into an epic duel of strength and magic. When the hippo, as a last ditch effort, tries to attack her father, Nana Miriam simply grabs its hind legs, and yeets it away so hard that it is never seen again.

Aicha the Demon-hunter (Algeria)

Aicha, the clever youngest daughter of a merchant, traps and kills a man-eating ghoul. However, the ghoul curses her with its last breath, so she can never rest or stay in one place. Turning the curse into a blessing, Aicha sets out on a journey and has several adventures where she defeats sea serpents, ghouls, and werewolves with her expert skills in magic and swordsmanship. Eventually, she manages to get rid of the curse, and becomes a queen.

Hiiaka's battle with demons (Hawaii)

Hiiaka, younger sister of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, has her own epic story in which she sets out on a quest and faces many obstacles. Among them, she fights Pana-ewa, a reptile-man and his army of creatures. Hiiaka has a magic skirt that summons lightning, and a knife to wield, and she puts up an epic battle against all kinds of monsters and creatures, eventually defeating them all.

Never let anyone tell you that girls can't fight monsters.

Happy International Women's Day!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Deities in the mountains (Folktales of South American Indigenous peoples 2. - Kogi)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. I am currently working my way through the folklore of South American indigenous peoples. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

Mitos Kogi
Manuela Fischer & Konrad Theodor Preuss
Abya-yala, 1989.

The Kogi live in the northern part of Colombia in the Sierra Nevada, numbering about 15,000 people. The book contains 27 myths collected by Konrad Preuss at the beginning of the 20th century, and 16 collected by Manuela Fischer in the 1980s. Most of these stories were told by chiefs when they were ruling on arguments, handing down laws and values through myths to the next generation. It is an interesting read, but didn't have enough notes to explain cultural elements, so occasionally I felt lost in what symbolic parts and actions meant.


The first text in the book about the mother goddess was very beautiful; she is the goddess of dance as well, and the story noted that she is the mother of all people (including foreigners). There was a myth about Taiku, the Lord of Gold, who created ritual objects out of gold. The other gods sent him apprentices, but he turned everyone who was not working hard enough into statues of gold.
The story of Kasindukua was exciting: he was supposed to protect people from illness, but started eating people instead, turning into a puma. The other gods worked hard to trap him. There was also an interesting moment in the story where two gods rebelled against Namsiku; Namsiku grew hooks on the tails of armadillos, and when his rivals went hunting they got dragged underground.


Among the creation stories there was a flood myth, where the earth was first scorched (hence red soil), and then soaked by rain for four years. The motif of party in the sky was also familiar: in this case Bunkuei, the daughter of one of the ancestors flew to the sky and stole the seeds of various plants - which then were stolen and stolen again, spreading around the world.
There were multiple shapeshifter legends in the book. One of them was about a chief named Mama Teizu, who could turn into a tiger, and ate people. They only managed to capture him when another chief shot an arrow and tore off his transforming mask and shirt.

Who's next?
I'm not sure yet...

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Clever armadillos and shapeshifting jaguars (Folktales of South American Indigenous peoples 1. - Mocoví)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. I am currently working my way through the folklore of South American indigenous peoples. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

Folk Literature of the Mocoví Indians
Johannes Wilbert, Karin Simoneau, Maria Susana Cipolletti
UCLA, 1988.

The Mocoví are a South American indigenous people numbering about twenty thousand. They live in the Gran Chaco area (most of them in the Argentinian part). This book contains 222 of their stories in English translation, from multiple collection projects - many of them published for the first time. It also has literally everything a researcher could wish for: footnotes, sources, motif index, type index, glossary, map, etc. The introduction talks about Mocoví culture and history, and mentions that the oral tradition was endangered at the time of collection in the 1970s.
What I especially like about this book series is that they put versions of the same tale next to each other, so one can compare how different storytellers at different times remembered them, showing off the diversity of oral tradition.


Among the constellation myths there was one about a man-eating rhea bird. After people defeated it with the help of a shaman, it was raised into the sky (as the Southern Cross). In a longer version of the story, the rhea was defeated by two siblings with the help of their loyal dogs after they fled from the court of an evil king (one of the rare tales where marrying the princess backfired). There was also a legend about the Morning Star, which in reality was a "black widow": she kept marrying and killing one man after another.
There were several fun origin stories in the book. My personal favorite explained how the birds got their colors due to a fox having diarrhea... another told about a party the animals had that ended in a mass brawl, leaving several creatures in their current form (e.g. the parrot's beak got punched in, the snake crawled home drunk, etc.)
The brasita de fuego birds had a love story attached: the male thought he'd lost his wife in a fire, but found her again and fell in love with her new red feathers. The story of the crespín cuckoo was very similar, and thus explained why their song is different in the few months when their ancestor was looking for its beloved. The scariest origin story was that of the locusts, which claimed that in the old days they used to be human-sized and hunted humans. There was also a legend about the giant King of Ants, who helped farmers in exchange for peace with his people.
A large part of the book was taken up by animal tales. I especially liked the character of the clever armadillo. In one tale, it caught animals with a lasso and anchored himself in a hole; when fox tried to copy him, things did not go well. In another, armadillo pinched jaguar's nose with his armor, curling up, and didn't let go until the predator changed its mind.
There was an entertaining story about a cat and a deer who made jaguars believe they ate jaguars - exiling the predators into the wilderness forever. In another one, a howler monkey chased a jaguar away, saving a goat; there was also one where a goat used a dead puma to scare a jaguar away. I especially liked the story of the three little yellow fish who were sisters, and got trapped in a crocodile's pond after a flood. They managed to convince the crocodile they wanted to marry him, avoiding being eaten until the flood returned to free them.
There was an exciting legend about a beautiful girl who was bullied by other women (they stole all her lovers) - in the end, using the power women had during their period, she sank her entire village underground with the help of a giant snake. In another version, a shaman convinced a girl on her period to anger a snake monster - and then lead it to the camp of hostile white conquerors.
At the end of the book there were several legends about shapeshifting jaguars. My favorite was the one where the shaman didn't only defeat the jaguar-man, but also robbed its house - bringing the first musical instruments into the human world. In another story a shaman defeated the jaguar with the help of two dogs born from his spit (which people didn't believe later). There was also a friendlier legend about an orphan boy who was raised by jaguars and taught how to hunt.


Mocoví mythology also had a sky-reaching tree, with branches that allowed people to fish in sky rivers. Sadly, when people became greedy, an old woman in the shape of a capybara brought the tree down. The motif of fire theft also appeared: Hawk stole fire for people, from none other but the grumpy-looking viscacha. In some versions the thief was a vulture, an animal the Mocoví respect greatly. There was also a flood myth (here, a mangy dog warned the kind hero to prepare in advance).
Among the creation stories there was one where a troublesome spirit (Nowét) tried to copy the creations of the Creator (Kotaá) - making goats instead of sheep, and tapirs instead of cows.
I was surprised to find a few familiar tale types: Father of Winds was a "rescued princesses" tale, where the shaman hero became the lord of the winds upon his return from the underworld. In another a mortal man married the daughter of Naiapék the shapeshifting giant - resulting in a Magic Flight story (at the end of which the young couple split up).
Among the animal tales there was the familiar "bystander intervention" tale where an ovenbird helped a dove save its chicks from a fox.
The resident trickster was the Fox, who mostly played tricks on Jaguar. He featured in many classics such as the false funeral, the ungrateful animal rescued from a trap, crossing a river on the back of crocodiles, and mutual dinner invitations with a bandurria bird. One storyteller noted: "Fox is not nice, but his stories are exciting." As I mentioned above, Armadillo was also a popular trickster - he could even trick fox (usually by making him try to copy the armadillo). Another trickster was a distant cousin on Mouse Deer called Brocket Deer, who also liked to trick Jaguar. In a few stories, Monkey also played tricks - once, he convinced Fox that if he followed the Bull around, eventually the bull's balls would drop like candy.

Who's next?
The Kogi people

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Folktale Selection: Sometimes you just have to let toxic people go

Folktales and other traditional stories carry a community's values. They teach us about important things such as empathy, forgiveness, acceptance, teamwork, and more. They are not always as black and white as one may think: heroes can make mistakes and learn from them; villains can be forgiven.

But every once in a while, forgiveness is not the answer. Just like in real life, abusive relationships cannot be mended by second, third, fourth chances; no matter how well you communicate your feelings, you can't negotiate with an abuser who doesn't care if they hurt you. In these cases, the pressure to "forgive and try again" only results in more hurt. In these cases, even folktales know that the best course of action is severing ties with the ones that keep hurting you.

I have encountered many folktales that have a "happy ending" that involve people returning to spouses or parents that hurt - or even tried to kill - them, without the other party showing any sign of remorse. To balance out the scales, I made a selection of folktales about people who walk away from toxic relationships, and never look back.

Links in the titles, as usual.

Holua-Manu (Hawaii)

This is a very strong story. A boy's parents have magic powers and solely use them to torture their child for fun. He wants to go and play, but there are always more chores to do, and he can never do them well enough to please his parents. When he makes a decision to go do something for himself anyway, his parents grow furious and attack him. In the end, he manages to get away, and makes a decision to leave for good. The gods, as punishment, take away the parents' powers.

Three orphan sisters (Tu/Monguor people)

A couple wants a son, but instead they have three daughters. With the birth of each child, they resent each other and the children more and more, for not having a son. In the end, they take the girls out into the wilderness and abandon them. The girls are found by hunters and taken to a good home; eventually, they marry good men and live happily. One day they return to visit their parents, hoping to reconcile... but they find their parents still busy praying for a son and showing no remorse. So the girls leave without a word.

Youngest Brother Returns Favors (Tu/Monguor people)

Four orphan brothers each pursue different trades; the youngest goes to school and studies for examinations. When he wants to travel to take the exam, only one brother lends him support, the others mock him and turn him down. In the end, the boy becomes emperor - but when his cruel brothers come to him for favors, he turns them away. Later drought hits the lands, and he makes sure to help the brother that had been kind to him.

Nisang shamaness (Daur people)

This is a long and fascinating epic about a brave shamaness who descends into the underworld to save the soul of a young man. On the way back she encounters the soul of her late husband, who berates her for not saving him too. She tries to explain that she can't, but he gets violent and threatens her - so Nisang summons spirits to lock him up and leaves him behind. It is implied that he had not been a good husband while he was alive.

The king and the weaver bird (Nigeria)

A king marries a woman he loves, despite the warnings that women in her family often give birth to twins (an offense traditionally punishable by death). When she does indeed have twins, the king decides that his family is more important than what people think, and they all leave, transforming into weaver birds to live in the forest.

My Beauty (Haiti)

A girl is tortured by her cruel stepmother in the absence of her (grown-up) brothers. The stepmother eventually promises her to the Devil. In the last moment the brothers come to the rescue and take their sister away. Years later they return, only to find the stepmother telling lies and the father claiming that he did not notice anything at all. They all leave again, to live happily elsewhere.

A woman and the king's treasury (Syria)

A kind and little simple woman is abused by her husband, until one day he throws her out of the home. She wanders away, and accidentally witnesses two thieves dividing up treasure they stole from the King. She tells her husband, who takes the treasure, covers his tracks, and threatens her into silence. She decides to stand up for herself, and goes to report it all to the King - the thieves and the husband are arrested, the woman gets half the treasure, and she can live in wealth and peace for the rest of her life.

I also wrote a blog post about folktales that feature divorce, among them stories where people leave abusive spouses. You can find that post here.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Favorite Folktales for the Year of the Rabbit

Today marks the lunar new year, beginning the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese zodiac. As usual, I have collected a list of folktales and legends that feature rabbits and hares. It was a fairly easy task, since these animals often take on the role of the trickster in cultures around the world. There is an abundance of stories - I decided to cherry-pick my all-time favorites.

(Links in the titles, as usual.)

Happy New Year!

The Sisimiqui (Costa Rica)

One of my all-time favorite folktales, about a terrifying monster and a heroic little rabbit that defeats it. The rabbit in this story rides an armadillo, which makes it even better. He defeats the monster in a game of whack-a-mole (or whack-a-rabbit), popping out of tunnels that the armadillo dug, and killing the enemy with a thousand small cuts and bites. (This tale also has variants from Belize.)

Rabbit kills a dragon (St. Lucia)

Once again, a trickster character does something heroic: in this case, fights a seven-headed serpent with a knife, to rescue two girls. During the fight Rabbit occasionally loses a limb, or his head, but he always speaks magic words and sticks them back into place.

The shy quilt bird (Myanmar)

Another old time favorite of mine. In this one, the Golden Rabbit, trickster and advisor to King Lion, saves the animals from an evil serpent by teaching them how to work together as a team.

Br'er Rabbit's courtship (African-American)

I do have a soft spot for folktales where tricksters fall in love. In this case, Br'er Rabbit has a crush on the daughter of Miss Meadows. And the story has a happy ending.

Mr. Deer's Party (Cajun)

Mr. Deer announces that he'll marry his daughter to the suitor who can dance dust out of a rock. Compére Lapin, who is in love with the girl, finds a way to create an illusion and win her hand (or hoof).

The beekeeper and the bewitched hare (Scotland)

A kind-hearted young man saves a hare from a witch, with the help of his bees. In the end, it turns out the hare was not an animal at all, but an enchanted girl.

The hare and the tree spirit (Xhosa)

Trickster decides to help a young man who is in love with a mute girl. Hare manages to break the curse place on the girl by doing something so foolish and silly that she has to speak up.

Mr. Fox's funeral (USA)

In this story the rabbit-trickster is a girl: Molly Cottontail. Fox tries to outwit her by luring her to his own pretend funeral - but in the end, Molly gets the last laugh.

Hare rescues the sun (Yupik)

I did a deep dive into this story a while ago (see link). When evil beings kidnap the sun and the moon, Snowshoe Hare goes out, steals them back, and kicks them up into the sky.

How Hare got a wife for his son (Tanzania)

A fun tale about a wise hare father who helps his son win a bride. It is related to the Grimms' Queen Bee story, where the hero is kind to animals along the way and later they help him in return.

Trickster seeks endowments

This is not one tale, but rather a tale type that does not appear in the ATU catalog, and very often features Rabbit as a protagonist. It's a story type where Trickster asks God (or a supreme being) for more wits/wisdom/cleverness, and has to fulfill tasks to earn it. Usually, once the supreme being sees how cleverly Rabbit outwits anyone to reach his goal, they decide Rabbit already has more than enough wits to get by. (See a picture book version of one of these tales here.)

Honorable mention: The sea-hare (Grimm)

I am adding this as a bonus because it is alleged that "sea-hare" is a local dialect word for a rabbit, but this folktale has also been translated as "hamster" or "guinea pig". Since it features a creature that hides in a princess' hair, we can't quite be sure. But I do love this story, and it is one of the lesser known Grimms.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Hedgehog hero (Following folktales around the world 201. - Western Sahara)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Western Sahara (the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR) is a non-autonomous country that has been fighting for independence from Morocco for decades. In the neighboring Algeria there are refugee camps giving shelter to thousands of Sahrawi people. When I was going through Africa with this challenge, I didn't have a book to read so I skipped it. But now I do, so I circled back for a 201st stop.

Los cuentos del erizo
Y otros cuentos de las mujeres del Sáhara
Ana Crisitna Herreros
Libros de las Malas Compañías, 2017.

The book contains 30 folktales collected from Sahrawi women in refugee camps in Tinduf, Algeria. Spanish storyteller Ana Cristina Herreros and artist Daniel Tornero visited the camps - that have been in existence for 40 years - in 2016. Ana recorded and collected folktales (in the original language, to be translated to Spanish later), and Daniel conducted workshops with children, where illustrations for the book were made. Original photos and recordings can be found on the publisher's website.
The introduction was written by the SADR's Minister of Culture.


The trickster hedgehog (who is featured in the title and on the cover) sometimes did real heroic deeds in the stories. In one, he talked the animals into standing up to a tyrannical lion. When the lion tried to eat him, the hedgehog stuck in his throat, choking and pricking him to death.
The most beautiful and unique story, however, was that of the Ostrich Boy. A baby was lost in the desert and raised by ostriches. Even when he grew up and was returned to his people, ostriches still followed him around, and he could run just like them.


The resident trickster, as mentioned above, was the hedgehog. He was the protagonist of such classics as "lions stacked on top of each other" (and scaring the bottom one into running away); "top of the crop and bottom of the crop"; ungrateful animal in a trap; dividing food between lion and wolf; race between animals (him against a swallow); and even a tale where he shared meat with wolf the same way Prometheus had tricked the Greek gods out of their offerings.
Another trickster who made an appearance was Yuhaa, the Arab cousin of the Hodja, playing the classic trick of putting hot peppers on a donkey's ass to make it run faster. Another familiar tale was about a foolish king who outlawed scratching - but three clever women still found a way to scratch themselves without being punished.
Among the non-trickster tales I found a version of the goats and the wolf (The red goat and the four kids), and the cursed brothers (Sraysru Dahabu).